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Which Pilates? Isn’t it just Pilates?

That’s like saying “I do exercise”. Which exercise? Actually, Pilates is just that – a form of exercise.

Which type of exercise you choose should depend on your goals for doing it – general or more extreme fitness, strength, body building, weight loss, managing a health condition, recovery from heart surgery or therapeutic exercise to help rehabilitate after an injury. One may flow into another as you get fitter, stronger, more mobile, bigger (or smaller) but where you start and who guides you is the most important decision you make.

Pilates is actually a family name. Joseph Pilates designed a series of floor and equipment exercises he called “Contrology” – Google it for more history if you’re interested. After his death it was coined “The Pilates Method” and then just became just ‘Pilates’. Pilates type exercises have been adapted, altered, modified, tried to be owned and certainly widely marketed by many different people and organisations.

Back to our first statement – the type of exercise you choose should be guided by the outcomes you want or need. So which type of Pilates exercises should you choose?


This requires no or little equipment and generally has a particular focus on ‘engaging the core’ through a linked series of movements and positions. Classes are easy to run, relatively cheap and can be a good choice if you are well, uninjured and looking for something to improve your body tone & general fitness. Depending on the instructor, you may use resistance bands, balls, circles and other gadgets to increase the challenge or complexity.

Mat Pilates can be physically dangerous if the level of exercise is not matched to the person. Many mat exercises are more physically demanding than equipment exercises – it is not a progression to move from the floor to equipment! Mat Pilates is not a good choice if you are injured or need specific help with a long term problem or recovering from pregnancy & childbirth.




Mat Pilates is a cheap, easy to run class exercise but not advised for injury recovery or rehabilitation.






The reformer is the classical, uniquepiece of Pilates equipment and is now made by a number of companies in wood, steel and hard plastic. Different strength springs resist or assist movement patterns and with a little ingenuity, the variety of movements is almost endless.

Most group classes run in gyms and studios are again best for someone who is well, uninjured and looking for general body tone & fitness. There is much debate on some of the more traditional Pilates claims such as ‘it activates the core’ and specific breathing patterns taught that are essential to the exercises. Simply put, no exercise will magically improve muscle activation and then strength unless you are educated and thinking about the muscle action and how it fits in to the whole body movement.

Group reformer classes run by a well-educated, observant instructor can be very beneficial but we don’t recommend this option if you have a specific injury, long term pain or dysfunction and therefore need an individually designed program.

By the way, if you are told – “your core doesn’t work” – seek another opinion from a health professional who can actually assess your movement quality and give you a more scientifically based analysis and plan to improve.




Group reformer classes can be a great general fitness option, can help with weight loss and body toning but are not advised for injury rehabilitation or long term pain management





This term has been adopted mainly by the Physiotherapy and other health based professions, taking the original principles of the Pilates method and modernising them to treat, manage and rehabilitate specific injuries, back pain particularly and assist with a raft of other medical and physical conditions. The primary reason for this, is that exercise, whether it be therapeutic or fitness aimed, is a proven part of any successful treatment or rehabilitation program. As first stated, Pilates is simply a form of exercise but with the right instruction can be used to challenge the human form in unique ways not available in any other approach.





Individual analysis and exercise programming is best practice for pain management and injury rehabilitation. Individual programs can be then performed in a supervised group setting.





The main thrust of the clinical approach is individual assessment and programming of exercises. A thorough history taking, physical assessment, movement analysis and graduated progression of exercise separates Clinical approach from mat and group reformer Pilates classes. Classes, by definition involve an instructor taking a group through a set series of exercises with everyone doing the same thing. Some services have a health clinician or instructor working in small groups of 2-4 programming individually with some common exercises. With an experienced person, this can be a good approach but is very challenging for the instructor and more difficult to maintain an individual’s progress.

Once individually programmed exercises have been taught to the client, people can attend group sessions where they run through their own program, under supervision and are progressed at a pace suitable for their condition and goals. This approach allows for tailored exercise therapy but is much more affordable than 1 on 1 sessions.

So when choosing which Pilates, Clinical Pilates guided by a qualified health clinician is the choice for those with specific injuries, health conditions or long term pain looking for an individual program, well supervised and progressed as clinically indicated. The program should be functional, challenging but achievable and most importantly, enjoyable. The best exercises are the ones that we actually do!

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